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Not content with being a successful yet obscurantist singer-songwriter with a penchant for self-depreciating everyday glamour, Courtney Barnett is also the proprietor of Milk! Records, the increasingly relevant Melbourne-based record label that she set up herself, rather than go to all the bother of letting someone else sign her up. A commendable effort indeed, even more so when one peruses her astute roster. Jen Cloher’s scuzzy blues-rock proves she’s got as many Lou Reed records in her collection as Rolling Stones ones. Fraser A. Gorman purveys wonderfully convincing old-time country – even more remarkable given the fact he’s Melburnian rather than Texan. Royston Vasie may not have the most original name (its third appearance in popular culture by my reckoning), but they’ve got a decent line in Dandy Warhols-esque garage-pop.
But back to Courtney. To celebrate the release of an upcoming Milk! Records compilation, she’s released ‘Pickles From the Jar’, one of the most unconventional – not to mention sweetly touching – loves songs one is likely to hear all year. Complete with false start, using the tried-and-tested White Stripes arrangement of clangy guitar and earnestly-thudded drums – she’s in love with a man who’s 15 years her senior, and culturally separated by 1,000 miles. But never fear! They bond over a shared love of Christopher Walken – an unlikely cupid, but hey, the man’s a genius, there’s nothing he can’t turn his hand to.
All the bands mentioned here are included on the compilation, to be released on the 31st of August. Their AU$5,000 funding target was crowdsourced on the very first day, but some pledges are still available. For instance, for a bargain £27, one can be the very proud owner of a signed, limited edition 10” vinyl copy. What is hugely encouraging about this project is the level of enthusiasm for artifacts – of music as object rather than transient pleasure. For instance, all three of the “Super Collector” options have sold – what you get for your £111 is a test pressing of Barnett’s second EP, a “virtually extinct” copy of a Jen Cloher / Courtney Barnett split 7”, in addition to the new 10”. That’s it. Unless it’s their parents buying them, this is one seriously hot record label right now. As is Melbourne, for that matter.
Dr. Martens have withstood the onslaught of – and reinvented themselves through – many – if not all – musical eras, fads, and fashions. No doubt ‘60s rockers found them very handy for keeping their feet protected from the tarmac, forcing a sticky gearlever to shift on a careworn Triumph and for kicking mods in the shins. Into the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, punk and the skinhead movement found DMs perfectly matched their aggressive image, even though most punks no doubt went home to their mums to tuck them in with a cup of cocoa at night.
Later on in the decade, as the hardness of punk split into gothic nihilism and dayglo optimism, Dr. Martens could be found on the feet of both groups – the perfect match to both a pair of leather trousers and a floaty flower-print dress. And then came the 1990s, and with it came grunge, a musical movement tailor made for a decent pair of sturdy footwear. Truth be told, there’s barely an era in music that DMs haven’t been associated with, continuing to the present day. So it’s no surprise that the brand has decided to become directly involved in a bit of music promotion.
Now in its second year, the Dr. Martens #standforsomething tour promises to repeat last year’s achievement of “taking some of the most exciting live acts around into tiny venues”. Which makes it sound like they’ve managed to get White Denim to play a phone box, and that isn’t really the case. I’m not sure the venues involved would agree with the “tiny” description – Newcastle’s Cluny 2 has raked seating, a balcony and 160 capacity. Nor is it unusual for the bands involved to play mid-size venues: Eagulls are playing the Cluny on their own headline tour, for instance.
Such pedantry aside, Dr. Martens have come up with an exciting, directional lineup, heavy on bands that feature the words “post”, “punk”, or indeed “post-punk” in their bios. Wales’ Funeral for a Friend have been plying post-punk pop with a distinctly American twist for over a decade now, and the public’s appetite shows no sign of waning. Leeds’ Eagulls are a touch more ramshackle, more punk and less metal, but nonetheless play in the same league.
A pattern emerges when we come to We are the Ocean – distorted, upbeat guitar riffs, insistent, double-tracked vocals and clean-as-a-whistle production. Only their mothers could tell them apart from Funeral. Things take a left-field turn in Los Campesinos! (pictured at top); instead of distorted guitars, there’s violins, any manner of improvised percussion and vocals that are more sung than screamed.
And then there’s the matter of Sydney’s Tonight Alive. Fresh from gracing the soundtrack of the latest Spiderman film, Jenna McDougall brings her impressively toned abdomen and similarly toned vocal cords to the humble environs of Newcastle’s Cluny 2. A combination of laid-back Australian surf style and distinctly Transatlantic musical chops, there’s no doubt that Tonight Alive will bring a dose of glamour to Tyneside – and to be fair to the promoters, considering the auditoria Tonight Alive are used to playing, the Cluny may indeed appear tiny in comparison.
When you boil it down, #standforsomething is nothing more than a short series of unrelated gigs across the country with a rather large marketing budget attached. The bands are already touring the UK: Tonight Alive, for instance, hit London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, completely independently, before their Martens-sponsored Newcastle date. Similarly, this gig closes We are the Ocean’s and Funeral for a Friend’s tours, whereas it falls directly in the middle of Eagulls’. Nonetheless, a good bit of promotion for some decent bands never goes amiss, so whichever way you slice it, if you’re into DMs, good music, or perhaps even both, there’s no better way to spend a night with your fellow leather enthusiasts. And you might bounce home with a bit of free swag. Catch the tour on the dates listed below and register on the Dr. Martens Web site here to register for tickets.
Saturday 4th October 2014 – Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire starring Funeral for a Friend
Saturday 11th October 2014 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach starring Eagulls
Saturday 25th October 2014 – Liverpool Shipping Forecast starring We are the Ocean
Saturday 8th November 2014 – London Lexington – TBA
Saturday 22nd November 2014 – Birmingham Flapper starring Los Campesinos!
Saturday 6th December 2014 – Newcastle Cluny 2 starring Tonight Alive
‘Slider’ is the first single to be taken from Bo Ningen’s third album, the appropriately entitled ‘III’. The video is directed by London-based fashion film director Marie Schuller, who swathes the band within her obsessive monochrome geometry. The stylish, stylised video combines vintage techniques like video feedback with digital manipulation – a combination which echoes the band’s blend of 60s garage psychedelia and contemporary avant-garde rock. Guitars squall and squeal as if in protest of being distorted into shards of tremoloed treble.
In its four-to-the-floor groove and conventional vocal melody, ‘Slider’ is one of the more accessible tracks on ‘III’, lacking the atonal primal screams found on the rest of the album; one suspects a strong Yoko Ono influence. But as if to prove me wrong, with a rarity akin to the blooming of Amorphophallus titanum, the band drop briefly into 5/4 time halfway through the track to create a memorably audacious middle eight. Bo Ningen have been going for a while now, but if this video is anything to go by, their live performance will be crackling with garage-y, psychedelic energy. They play Sheffield’s Tramlines festival on 27th July, before returning to the UK in November to support Band of Skulls.
Bo Ningen’s single ‘Slider’ appears on their third album ‘III’ out now on Stolen Recordings.
Editor’s note: for a flavour of what Deer Shed has offered in previous years, read Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed in 2013 and 2012.
It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to spending a weekend under canvas, listening to live music en plein air and generally having a good time whilst dodging the rain. But there’s no reason why such enjoyment should be the exclusive privilege of adults – which is where the good people at Deer Shed Festival come in. Their particular brand of genius revolves around providing a surfeit of proper bands so that Mum and Dad can be exposed to a year’s worth of good new music and also have a ramble down their musical memory lane, whilst the children get up to all sorts of shenanigans with drumming workshops, making things out of string, and learning the occasional naughty bottom joke.
Deer Shed’s musical programming has always been high quality and eclectic, and this year promises the same. The general musical theme of each day at previous Deer Sheds has been as follows: Friday is party night, Saturday is mostly guitar-based, with a sprinkling of Dadrock, and Sunday is most definitely chill-out-with-a-bacon-sandwich time. This year seems to our ears a little more guitar-centric than previous, so don’t forget the kids’ ear defenders!
Friday night sees hip-hop making its first Deer Shed appearance in the form of Dan le Sac, bringing beat poetry into the 21st century with the help of his partner in beats DJ Scroobius Pip. Headlining the other stages are perennial indie favourites British Sea Power, and underground darlings Wolf Alice. Try not to miss Toy and Pins either. Saturday is the day where all manner of shenanigans break loose, with a full programme of music only half the story. TGTF’s band picks are Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls, husband-wife ’80s revivalists Summer Camp, London slackers Happyness, the superb French arch-pop of We Were Evergreen (in a rare return to Baldersby) and the ex-Beta Band Steve Mason, second on the bill only to Johnny Marr, who is sure to warm the cockles of dads of a certain age, perhaps reminding them of that 6th-form disco when they heard ‘How Soon Is Now’ for the first time – and when they still had hair…
But there’s far more to Saturday at Deer Shed than that. In fact, I’d say the kids get the best part of the deal, because while their parents are otherwise distracted, passively absorbing what’s on stage, the kids get to actively participate in some really cool stuff. Let’s consider workshops – the lucky blighters can variously make a castle, a cyborg teddy, a lolly stick trebuchet, a comic book, a princess costume, badges, bracelets, and pretty much anything out of clay. They can learn how to drum, perform circus feats, play the ukulele, and shoot a cocktail stick crossbow. And if that’s not enough they can watch as much slapstick and learn as many naughty jokes about bums that their little heads can handle. Particular standouts from the PG-rated comedy strand include the proptastic Wes Zaharuk, Paul Cookson and ex-Housemartin Stan Cullimore doing kid-friendly ukulele singalongs, and for the little ones a puppet show featuring the adorable Lulu – a sort of emu, but with Rod Hull nowhere to be seen.
Arts activities for adults include a spoken word strand curated by the Guardian’s Dave Simpson – check out ‘The Fallen on The Fall’, allegedly the most Fall musicians in the same room except actually in The Fall, or Saint Etienne‘s Bob Stanley discussing his book ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah': the complete story of the modern pop era, apparently. There’s all you ever wanted to know about The Wonder Stuff, and all you never thought to ask about Bradford’s musical history. If that’s all too much and you fancy slumping down in front of the big screen, there’s time travel-themed movies all weekend, culminating in 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with live piano accompaniment from the genius that is Darius Battiwalla. Almost worth the entrance fee alone.
Speaking of themes… Friday night sees the Time Travel Party get into full swing. What that involves isn’t clear, but we imagine one of two things – either remembering the date for the future when time travel machines have been invented, then going back in time to attend, or, perhaps the easier option, bring some clothing that was fashionable in the past, or perhaps will be fashionable in the future, and wear that to the party in an effort to convince fellow revellers that you really are from the future. Or perhaps the past. This time travel business gets confusing very quickly. What you under no circumstances must do is attend from both the present and the future – if your two selves meet, the very fabric of spacetime will be rent asunder – an event hardly conducive to a decent party. If anyone needs advising on the tricky details of time travel, no doubt Marty McFly will be on hand to help, and perhaps one or two generations of Dr Whos. Don’t forget to bring your flux capacitor.
Even though Deer Shed offers good value in musical terms even if you haven’t got kids, the whole point of the event is that it’s a place where the little blighters can let off steam and have some fun in a relatively safe environment, with both children and adults catered for in terms of activities. Even though other festivals have their kids offerings, Deer Shed has the need to keep kids entertained woven into its very DNA – it’s something it’s very good at indeed. Added to the fact that it’s never rained at Deer Shed in living memory… what more do you need to know?
To read the first half of Martin’s review of Live at Leeds 2014, go here.
Happyness sound like they come from Slackersville, USA, their sound reminiscent of college rock luminaries such as The Lemonheads. But a quick post-gig chat with affable singer Jonny Allan reveals they’re actually from South London – it’s their record collections, not their accents, that are transatlantic. What’s also very British is their moderately grumpy, slightly pained, dead-pan intra-song witticisms (imagine if Derek and Clive formed a band and cut out most of the swearing) which puts the lie to their optimistic name.
Such obscurantism matches the music well – the full name of one song is revealed to be ‘I’m Wearing Win Butler’s Hair; There’s a Scalpless Singer of a Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’. Said song has a superbly laid-back groove, making it pretty much the perfect song for a late afternoon spent indoors when it’s sunny outside. There’s every day at a festival there’s a band who summarise the mood, linking atmosphere, location and sound in a perfect circle of gentle euphoria – Happyness are that today.
Woman’s Hour (pictured at top) trade in gentle washes of electronica and minimal beats, topped with Fiona Burgess’ peachily delicate croon. Smooth and fragile, here appropriately swathed in smoke-machine atmosphere, Burgess making smooth motions with her hands as if hosting a communal tai-chi class. Much like the smoke, there’s the suspicion that Woman’s Hour are a bit ethereal, slightly monotonal, perhaps without the dynamics to structure a set which fully engages right to the end. Within their niche, very competent, but The xx have nothing to fear.
Highasakite sound like nobody else and are certainly the most ambitious band of the day. They make a fantastic orchestrated noise, perhaps best described as prog-pop, where guitars are just another instrument to carry their elegant, architectural melodies. Ingrid Helene Håvik strolls on stage unassumingly, wearing a hoodie several sizes too big, but when she starts to sing, the true potential of the band begins to be realised. ‘Since Last Wednesday’ is an epic on the theme of loss, featuring cathedral-size pipe organ and enormous drum hits, ‘Indian Summer’ has an enormous uplifting chorus, and latest single ‘Leaving No Traces’ melds spaghetti-western sensibilities with an electronic pop chorus which manages to be both icy cold and deeply emotional all at the same time. Quite a ride.
Each member of the band appears to be a virtuoso, particularly the impossibly-talented, formally-trained synth player Marte Eberson, whose playing stands out as being as stunning as her looks. In the back room of the Brudenell, with not much more than a handful of audience members, this starts to feel like a rare treat, of a band with stadium-sized potential playing a private gig for a select few who know the secret of where to find nuggets of otherworldly music. This is the performance of the day, and, for that matter, of the year so far.
There could hardly be two bands more different than Highasakite and The Orielles. One is an ensemble of refined, trained musicians who formed at the Trondheim Jazz Observatory. The other is a group of two sisters and their schoolfriend from Halifax who have a, shall we say, more rudimentary approach to their instruments. What isn’t rudimentary is their ability with a tune. Their sound is 60s-inspired melodic surf-psyche-garage of the most endearing naiveté. But there they are on Spotify and iTunes, with an EP and a single, showing for more experienced practitioners how to go about this music business thing.
Check out something like ‘Old Stuff // New Glass’ from their ‘Hindering Waves’ EP (video of the title track we featured earlier on TGTF here) – there’s a fantastic surf-guitar sound that Dick Dale would be proud of, there’s the double-double-barrelled Esme-Dee Hand-Halford giving Louise Wener a lesson or two in offhand cool, and her sister’s Ringo Starr-esque drumming holding it all together with a simple, tight groove. They even take on a bit of white funk in ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’. Tonight, the audience are mostly men, mostly at least twice the band’s age, heads nodding and feet tapping to the frenzy of noise coming from the stage, as the band race through their set with no banter or niceties to lighten the intensity. You might go to see them for the novelty of age, but you’ll stay for the tunes. (For more of our coverage on the Orielles, go here.)
By the time TGTF arrives at Leeds University for a look at the Wytches, the well-refreshed crowd are already as excited as a toddler at Christmas, bless them. The appearance of Kristian Bell and his the sound of his dirty power chords sends them over the edge – a tsunami of people surge forward and crush the photographers and their expensive gear who’ve braved the front of stage position. The photographers don’t stay long, the crowd continuing to press wave after wave of human flesh against the barrier. A fight breaks out at one point, which seems perfectly normal given the circumstances.
The band themselves do have a nice line in semitonal noise, mixing ’60s psychedelia with ’90s mainstream grunge like Temples‘ naughty little brothers. In ‘Wire Framed Mattress’, Bell emotes about his dignity collapsing, and it’s clear some members of the crowd can relate to him from first-hand experience this evening. Overall, The Wytches are about as scary as a Vincent Price film, and just as corny, but they’re good for a laugh in a paradoxically light-hearted way. Just don’t stand at the front if you value your bones unbroken. (For more of our coverage on the Wytches, go here.)
It’s left to Drenge to wrap the night up. They take the visceral impact of an act like the Wytches but manage to tidy it up a bit, making proper songs that don’t rely on tons of reverb and walls of noise, but feature audacious concepts like groove and melody. Eoin Loveless is a positive guitar hero for a new generation, despite, or perhaps because of, not really ever playing a solo. (For more of our coverage on Drenge, go here.)He loves a good riff, though. Kids these days, eh? Sadly the crowd here is even further removed from the mores of polite society than the previous one, with flying beer cups, extreme moshing (some punters even come complete with anticipatory plaster casts already applied), and the final straw – enthusiastic vomiting just in front of the speaker stack. TGTF retreats to a safe distance – outside the venue, watching from the stage door – just to be able to enjoy the performance without being assaulted by various fluids, bodily or otherwise. And that’s it. The end.
The genius of Live at Leeds is that it attracts enough ticket sales from those wanting to see bigger, more mainstream acts – apparently Frank Turner’s acoustic set was at capacity long before stage time – that they can afford to run a fringe of more interesting new music. DIY’s programming of the Brudenell was flawless – in another universe TGTF stayed there all day and saw The Amazing Snakeheads, Fair Ohs and Pulled Apart By Horses. But the program is so varied that there’s something for everyone, and at £25 for a whole day of class acts, superb value. Roll on 2015.
A writer’s job is often made easier if the band being reviewed is flawed – niggles, deficiencies and mediocrity are generally obvious, and the journalist can feel usefully employed in describing them and perhaps suggesting remedies. The better the band, the greater the challenge in finding something to write about that isn’t simple fawning praise. And then there’s White Denim, a band so accomplished that really this review could be distilled down to one sentence: “Flawless – go and see them without delay.” It really is as simple as that; we might as well stop there.
The world is replete with four-piece guitar bands who between them run the gamut of countless stylistic hues. Not many manage to weave countless genres and influences into a set of what is ostensibly ‘70s-style hard rock, but White Denim do. A band comprised entirely of virtuosos, they play with such insouciance that they could appear vaguely smug, were it not for the passion clearly evident in the music itself. Rhythm guitarist Austin Jenkins is the master of the deadpan riff, the tiniest of smiles playing across his lips, fingers evoking impossibly nimble, snaky guitar lines spun of the finest musical silk.
Bassist Steven Terebecki is similarly inscrutable. Indeed, the two stand close together throughout – their appearances could hardly be more different, but they are brothers in music. And then there’s James Petralli. Standing separate from the others, but facing towards them, leaning in whilst executing a fingerstyle lead line of a dexterity not seen since the era of Mark Knopfler, Petralli adds a touch of humanity to the relentless execution of his rhythm section.
Material-wise, they’re superb songwriters. Like a Steppenwolf in sheep’s clothing, they evoke dreamlike soundscapes of fuzz guitar, built of conventional tropes, but suddenly the direction might change gear into an abstract jazz interlude or a prog-rock wig-out. There’s a powerful streak of 60s soul infused throughout. Tonight’s set draws heavily from latest release, 2013’s ‘Corsicana Lemonade’, which is no bad thing, as the band themselves admit that this record comes closest to reflecting their live show, taming their wilder instincts, integrating pop-like melodies and simplifying arrangements, increasing their accessibility without compromising impact. There are spine-tingling moments aplenty, from the impossible riff of ‘In Dreams, At Night’, the understated cool of the title track, and proper straight-ahead blues-rocker ‘Pretty Green’. Perhaps a touch more from 2009’s startling ‘Fits’ would have been welcome, but that’s clutching at straws, really.
It’s been said that White Denim are the best live rock band in the world right now, and it’s difficult to disagree with that statement. Few, if any bands, achieve such an appealing blend of individual skill, mastery of several genres whilst still sounding like themselves, and complexity within the music whilst still retaining mainstream appeal. I’ve written as much about Wild Beasts before, except they have made a sidestep into electronica whilst White Denim are strictly a guitar ‘n’ drums outfit, and all the better for it. A brilliant inspiration for aspiring guitarists and living proof that guitar music still has its best days ahead of it.
See more of Martin’s high-res photos from this gig in the Toon on his Flickr.